The issue of help desk vs. service desk isn’t just a “potato/po-tah-to” thing. The IT help desk and the IT service desk are both business functions, but these terms shouldn’t be used interchangeably. There are real differences.
The help desk software you use to run your service desk isn’t the same as the actual help desk or service desk. In fact, you could, theoretically, run either one without software, but it would probably involve hastily-scrawled notes, misunderstandings, and eventually, tears…just kidding…kind of.
But let’s assume you have software that could be used to run an IT help desk or IT service desk. Why do you need to know the difference between the two? Here are 5 reasons.
1. Because IT Help Desks Are Outwardly Focused
The first important distinction when considering help desk vs. service desk is its focus. The IT help desk is end user focused. The IT service desk, on the other hand, is both end user focused and internally focused. With a service desk, there is an outward focus on the customer, but there’s a natural inward focus on the day-to-day business processes. The ultimate goal of the help desk is to fix end user problems, while the ultimate focus of the service desk is to reduce costs and raise efficiency.
2. Because IT Help Desks Are Tactical While Service Desks Are Strategic
IT help desks are tactical in that they are in place to solve problems as they arise. IT service desks, by contrasts, are strategic. The service desk may have a help desk component, but it also has an overarching goal of improving IT processes, monitoring and assessing current processes and trends, and looking for opportunities for IT processes (including the help desk) to run more efficiently.
3. Because IT Help Desks Focus on Here-and-Now Problems
Joe’s printer drivers no longer work and he needs to print out copies of a presentation before 10 o’clock. The IT help desk is focused on fixing his printer drivers or finding a workaround that will get those printouts in his hand by the deadline. The IT service desk, meanwhile, notices that over the past week, several people on that same floor have had problems printing things, so the problem could be something deeper. The service desk dispatches someone to figure out what’s causing the printer problems.
4. Because IT Service Desks Concentrate on Playing the Long Game
When people are complaining about long phone queues and help tickets getting lost, it’s up to the IT service desk to figure out how help desk workers can keep end users happy, while determining if a fundamental change needs to be made, such as using a different help desk software provider. Meanwhile, the IT help desk workers concentrate on getting passwords reset and ensuring the new employee has a laptop when she arrives next week.
5. So that Communications Are Consistent
ITIL makes a distinction between the help desk and the service desk, and so do many IT professionals. If, for example, your organization is hiring a new systems administrator, using the right terminology in the job description and during the interview ensures that everyone is on the same page and that the potential system administrator understands what he or she will be doing. The correct terminology is also important when speaking with vendors, and when presenting papers at conferences. It’s a way of making sure you’re communicating the point you want to get across.
When it comes to help desk vs. service desk, sure, there are definite similarities. However, under the ITIL framework, the two are different, and it’s important that you and the rest of your IT professionals know the differences and use the correct terminology in contexts where using the wrong term could make a difference.